No man is a prophet… in his own movement

Yesterday I was pleased to discover that all articles published in the Nouvelle Revue Théologique from 1958 to 2000 by the Belgian Jesuits are now online. Congratulations to the publishers for making this important publication available on “open access” to all researchers (or at least those who read French!).

Excellent, I thought, that will save me some trips to libraries in Europe!

Disappointment quickly set in though when I typed Cardijn into the search box and found not one reference in the index of articles that mentions Joseph Cardijn! Bear in mind this is a theological review published in Belgium by Belgians!

On the other hand, Cardijn is mentioned three times by name in book reviews herehere and here.

And his name is mentioned a few more times as part of the name of Centre de Formation Cardijn (CEFOC), eg here.

I was staggered – but once again not surprised.

Searching on terms such as lay (laïc – 22 articles), laity (laïcat – 7 articles), lay apostolate (apostolat des laïcs – 3 articles), Catholic Action (Action catholique – 10 articles) did enable me to unearth one article citing Cardijn, namely French YCW chaplain Louis Le Bras’s 1945 article Pentecôte pour ce temps.

However, I soon realised that the NRT search engine is not very good and that I was probably missing a few references.

So back to google where I searched on site:nrt.be cardijn

And I found 36 references to Cardijn including the ones above! Well, that’s starting to look a bit better.

But then I started to search on other names and this is what I found in descending order:

Gérard Philips          7080
Henri de Lubac        2900
John Paul II             1780 (+ Wojtyla 94)
Paul VI                      879
Thomas d’Aquin         784
Yves Congar              585
Pius XII                     448
John XXIII                421
Teilhard de Chardin   418
Maurice Blondel        407
John Henry Newman 333
Karl Marx                 289

Gustave Thils             182

MD Chenu                178

Card. LJ Suenens     138

François Houtart         73

Lucien Cerfaux           72

Card. D. Mercier        66

F de Lamennais          40

St Josemaria Escriva    39

Joseph Cardijn         36

Helder Camara           28

Mother Teresa            27
Frédéric Ozanam        24

Bishop EJ De Smedt   19

Alphonse Gratry         18

Card Van Roey          13

José Comblin                9

Albert Dondeyne          8

Paul Dabin                   6

Gérard Philips, a former YCS chaplain and the architect of Lumen Gentium, heads the list by several lengths of the pool. Henri de Lubac comes next and probably drags Maurice Blondel in his wake.

But we have to go down a long, long way to get to Cardijn with a total of 36 references compared to Philips 7080!

Even St Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, gets cited more – and he was not even Belgian! Not to mention Marx with 289 references!

I suppose it is normal that theologians cite each other’s work. But don’t the above statistics also indicate a general failure among theologians to reflect theologically on the more practically oriented work of people like Cardijn? Note the few references to Mother Teresa or even the Belgian Saint Damien de Veuster.

Nevertheless, I don’t know whether Damien de Veuster claimed to have a theology. But I believe that Cardijn certainly did have a theology – even if he disavowed the title of theologian. I suspect Mother Teresa also had a profound theology.

In any case, given Cardijn’s worldwide role and impact over a period of several decades, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that at least as far as many theologians are concerned, Cardijn is certainly not seen as a prophet in his own home country.

By the same token, it also shows how little theological reflection on Cardijn has come from the Cardijn movements themselves, which can only sadly mean that no man (or at least Cardijn) is a prophet in his own movement.. and by that I do not mean the YCW of today but rather the whole Cardijn ‘movement’ of people formed in the Cardijn tradition over the last say 50 years.

Stefan Gigacz


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